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Fellowship & Fortitude: The Bookclub for Christian Parents (2nd Sunday @6pm)

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Julian Reed
Julian Reed

Frankenstein From The Royal Ballet

The leading roles are danced with great commitment and the supporting ones are well fleshed out: impetuous Justine and her watchful mother (Elizabeth McGorian), William, and Henry Clerval. They stand out in ensemble routines that could have come from many another ballet featuring peasants, courtiers, gentlefolk and harlots. Frankenstein is surprisingly conventional in its structure, taking little for granted in its story-telling. Memories are illustrated by the reappearance of characters as living ghosts. Props are wielded to explain motivations. Nonetheless, without the detailed synopsis as a guide, many nuances would remain obscure.

Frankenstein from the Royal Ballet

Steven McRae as the strange and troubled Creature is better than Bonelli's Frankenstein, though a movement language of cowering, alienation and longing is still too limited for a character who in the novel is an articulate observer of human society. But at least his occasional threatening presence reminds us this isn't A Month in the Country, and the charged, angry, homoerotic pas de deux in which Frankenstein and the Creature finally confront each other (pictured above left) is the most powerful piece of dance in the evening. It's as if two leads, which have been kept apart for the whole ballet, are finally connected to the same battery: the current suddenly flows. But, just as quickly, it dies again, leaving the ballet to peter out in a wan sort of Götterdämmerung, in which the flames consuming all the sorry protagonists' corpses are suggested by gentle tinkling in the score and the only oomph comes from the volcanic-red lighting of Macfarlane's superb Turner-ish backcloth (main picture), surely a contender for one of the loveliest ever painted.

But there are many misfires too, including Wayne Eagling's 1985 dance work, made for the Royal Ballet with music by Vangelis which vanished from the repertory but not, alas, from the mind almost as soon as it was staged. All of which should have set alarm bells ringing at the Royal Ballet when the young and eager choreographer Liam Scarlett said he wanted to make his first full-act ballet based on the tale.

In previous narrative ballets, the choreographer has shown flair and a taste for grand guignol effects but he has also, fatally, revealed an inability to distinguish the significant fact from the insignificant detail. Here everything must hinge on the relationship between Dr Frankenstein and the Creature who becomes a murderous killer not because of the way he is made, but because of how he is treated. He is the ultimate outsider, yearning for acceptance.

Yet Scarlett never shows us the depth of the Creature's rejection; until the very close, he shies away from a psychologically revealing duet between master and monster, preferring to concentrate instead on Frankenstein's love for the orphan Elizabeth. This unbalances the ballet, creating a vacuum at its heart. We get very little drama - just a lot of back story.

Such good timing! I just read today about Mary Shelley and her book, "Frankenstein." I hadn't realized how different the book was from all the movie versions we've all seen. I'm guessing this ballet is closer to the original book. Although I haven't read it, the book sounds so much deeper, and, dare I say, serious than the movie versions. I did read the original Bram Stoker "Dracula" last year, and it was surprisingly readable for a book of that vintage. Definitely has staying power! 041b061a72


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